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Dallas judge dismisses defamation case against neighborhood blogger

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Texas judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against a neighborhood blogger in Dallas, who was sued by a local…

A Texas judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against a neighborhood blogger in Dallas, who was sued by a local bar owner for posting stories about customer violence and business ordinance violations.

This ruling effectively puts an end to the nearly 18-month litigation battle between Avi Adelman, the 56-year-old editor and publisher of the hyper-local news site BarkingDogs.org, and Fernando Rosales, the former owner of the bar Lost Society, that was closed in October after Rosales was arrested for possession of a controlled substance.

"They thought they were going to scare me to death by suing me and I’d go running up the hills, taking everything off the website and cowering in my kitchen like a tornado is coming through… but I was ready for them,” Adelman said.

The defamation lawsuit stemmed from Adelman's blog posts — dating back to June 2010 — that criticized the business practices and reputation of Rosales after an altercation ended in a deadly shooting outside a nearby business. According to the lawsuit, Adelman published defamatory words when he referred to Rosales as a "scumbar owner" in the post stating that "[l]ast week's murder by Char Bar took place after the victim and shooter partied at Lost Society."

In Nov. 2010, Rosales subpoenaed Adelman to reveal the identities of confidential sources cited in his posts about the shooting. But Adelman refused to name his sources. Instead, Adelman invoked the Texas Shield Law — enacted in May 2009 — that provides protection to journalists from disclosing their sources of information and materials gathered while reporting.

Adelman, who has lived in the east Dallas area for more than 28 years, started the neighborhood watch website in the late 1990s when problems with bars and restaurants in the community began, he said.

Rosales filed the defamation lawsuit in Dec. 2010 alleging that Adelman published false and defamatory statements on his website causing "damages and loss of business dealings." According to the lawsuit, Rosales requested the judge award him actual damages for physical pain and suffering in both the past and future, mental anguish, the loss of goodwill and the loss of past and future profits. Rosales also accused Adelman of copyright infringement for creating graphic similar to that of Lost Society's copyrighted sign and text.

Additionally, Rosales sought to silence the community blog in a request to shut down the website and stop Adelman from publishing any content about Lost Society or Rosales in future posts.

During the course of litigation, Rosales twice sought an injunction on the website. But Adelman's counsel successfully argued that an injunction would have constituted "a prior restraint on speech, which is unconstitutional under the Texas and United States Constitutions," and both requests were denied.

In the court's decision, Dallas County Court Judge Mark Greenberg stated that Rosales and his business partners had "not sustained their burden of establishing entitlement to a temporary injunction."

"I'm glad this is over," Adelman said. "My only technical regret is that we didn't get this litigated — not that I would have looked forward to it — but to settle the issue that bloggers in Texas don't count as journalists."

In granting the lawsuit's dismissal, Judge Greenberg ordered Rosales and his partners to pay reasonable costs incurred while defending the litigation.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· News: Texas judge tosses request for restraining order on blogger

· News: Texas judge denies 2nd request for injunction against blog

· NM&L: In the age of new media, who counts as a journalist?

· Texas – Privilege Compendium: I. Introduction: History & Background